All eyes in the world of sports this morning are focused keenly on the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where there appears to be a preponderance of evidence that the University of Louisville organized private sex shows for basketball recruits. It’s a scandalous, salacious story that half of the state is sick about, and the other half is gleefully gloating about. You see, in the Bluegrass, you are often defined by which of the state’s basketball powerhouses’ logo you have chosen to adorn your car. If you are a Kentucky fan, you simply cannot drive a red car. If you are a Louisville fan, you would never dream of wearing a blue shirt. Every single flight I take to Lexington has at least five people wearing UK logowear, and often it’s as much as half of the plane’s passengers that are so attired.
But, I digress. There is one figure that is even more polarizing within the context of this rivalry, and his name is Rick Pitino. For those of you who don’t live and breathe college basketball, or even those who do but do it outside the borders of Kentucky, you may not know that there is nobody who is simultaneously revered and reviled like Pitino is. He led Kentucky to an NCAA title in 1996 and a runner-up finish in 1997, and then fled for the greener pastures of the NBA, only to return to college coaching with his tail between his legs after massive failures in both Boston and New York.
When he returned, however, he returned to the one school that UK fans could never forgive him for choosing—their archenemy, Louisville. Even worse, he turned Louisville into a national power again, winning a title in 2013.
It looks like he may have done it using some less-than-wholesome methods, though. In less than an hour, ESPN will have a live interview with the former escort who alleges that the ‘Ville paid her around $10K to provide strippers and escorts to prospective players when they visited the campus. Pitino has, thus far, claimed ignorance of the entire situation. However, if the allegations prove to be true (and everybody says that she appears to be credible), then it’s hard to imagine that Pitino survives.
But is it really that hard to imagine?
After all, this is the man who previously survived the Karen Sypher extortion scandal. He claims to have had no knowledge of this latest scandal, that it was all perpetrated by Andre McGee, a former player, assistant, and Director of Basketball Operations at Louisville. While it’s certainly damning news if it turns out that Pitino was unaware of these sex parties for recruits, it’s less damning than if he was aware.
Let’s be honest, here. While it would be untrue to say that this sort of thing happens everywhere in big college athletics, it wouldn’t be untrue to say that things like this happen everywhere. While Louisville may be unique in actually paying professionals to come into the dorms and perform sex acts for recruits, it is virtually accepted practice for recruits at major universities to be assigned a “hostess” to accompany them for the weekend. These hostesses are university students who are given the responsibility of making sure that the recruit enjoys himself. That can mean anything. I can assure you that I will NEVER allow my daughter to be a “Gator Getter” or whatever they’re called at your university of choice. While I wasn’t a high-profile college recruit coming out of school, I had many friends who were, and the stories they told made me pretty jealous. And that was twenty years ago, when our young people were much less sexualized than kids coming out of high school today are.
In fact, I suspect that the reason that the U of L took this path was to keep the exploits from becoming public through social media. If they controlled the kids’ phones during these private sex parties, then there was no chance that pictures could get out onto Twitter and Instagram of eighteen-year-olds doing shots at strip clubs. They probably figured—hey, they’re gonna do this while they’re here, anyway. Let’s maintain some sense of control over it, shall we? And, frankly, I prefer that they bring in professionals rather than have college girls act as unpaid hookers.
So, much like the Joe Paterno scandal, I suspect that it will all come down to what Pitino knew, and when he knew it. Pitino has already proven to be a man of flimsy personal character—he’s no Joe Paterno, whom we all knew to be of the highest possible fiber. Or, at least we thought we did. We all saw what happened to Paterno. Maybe we need to stop hiring men of Italian descent whose names begin with “P” and end in “O.” It’s probably a coincidence, but it’s just a thought.
Once again, it all comes down to winning. Pitino survived the Sypher scandal, and then promptly brought a title to Cardinal Nation. If he had never won there, they’d be happy to send him out of town on the next riverboat. However, when you hang banners, it gets trickier. If the University, either directly or indirectly, provided alcohol and sex to high school juniors and seniors, everybody involved has to go, from the AD down.
I guess we’ll find out whether or not the university, one of the most respected public universities in America, values winning over all.